"Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider's genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere -
even from a broken web."
- Adrienne Rich
(I've quoted this not too many days ago, but its just so pertinent in my life right now that I have to repeat it. And hopefully this time I'll do a better job of explaining why it means so much to me)
~ ~ ~
I have begun to feel like I have “heard it all” after only being on the job for 7 months. It is making me impatient. This is not a part of myself I like to own up to - my impatience - but it has always been there. And it has not been easy lately to be present to the sadness that my client’s feel in their lives. There is always a story behind where they are today, and often I have been finding myself brushing them off, saying, “Yes, you qualify for the Pantry services. I don’t need to know what got you to this place.” Chances are I’ve already heard a similar story, if not one that is sadder.
But who in the hell am I to consider what story is “sadder”? And when I think about it, the hard truth is that when I do this, I am another link in the chain of people my clients come into contact with over the course of their day or week or month who brush them off because they don’t have time or energy to take on any more sadness. When someone is struggling, they need to let the story come forth from time to time. They are asking me for help, not just in feeding their kids, but in taking a few minutes of my day to be present to their story, their anger and their fears. The least I could do is give them that, right?
But some days their stories feel like a burden to me. I feel heavy after listening and I carry all that they have told me on my bike, into my house and wrap these things around me in my bed. I’m doing all I can. I’m doing what I’ve been assigned to do this year: give these people supplemental food so they can make it through the week, hopefully pay the rent and eat a little healthier. But there is so much more needed. By quieting my own anxious self and listening for just a couple more minutes, I could give them more than supplemental food. By giving them the time of day and looking them in the eye, I could humanize them. However, when I give myself to them and allow myself to empathize so that for just a minute, I take a bit of their sadness on. I carry part of the story, even if the weight on me doesn't help alleviate anything from their own backs, or take away another worry from their own bed.
I have been pushing away from these moments. Brushing them away and not looking anyone in the eye while I fill out their paperwork. I see this in myself and I feel so angry with myself. I don't like that I get impatient with my friends when I feel like we're leaving too slowly, or that I feel tension and anxiety when the bus driver isn't changing into the lane I think would be faster. But my distaste with my own impatience comes to a head when it comes to my client relations, as I described above. Its just too bothersome.
So in order to be more patient, I have been working on being more willing to actually look at the stories I've been carrying around, then let them go. They are not mine. There’s nothing else I can do with them. It takes a lot of work. I need to prepare myself more fully for the day on the way to work and intentionally sort through them and let them go on the bus ride home. Not tune the world out with a book for an hour, like I am used to doing. I am working on introducing more patience and being the ear someone needs when it is asked of me, so that I can help my clients perhaps in more ways than one, but not hold any more weight in my pockets than necessary. I have enough worries and stresses in my own story to take on everyone else’s.